Probably the Worst Email of All Time

This, or a version of it, arrives a few times a week:

“Dear Conor
I need to talk to you. Can I have some time?
X”

By the way, its not from my girlfriend, or my daughter. They get a yes. My mum, dad, brothers, sister – they get a yes. However, generally these emails come from people that I am not deeply connected to.

Photo Credit: daveynin via Compfight cc

What do I know from this email?

You don’t care about my time enough to set out an agenda, let me know how I can be prepared, help me with something that you know I want (its all on my blog!).

I think I can predict the success or failure of a startup based upon the quality of the “asking for a meeting” emails that the founders tend to write. This is entirely speculative and based upon zero empirical study, but a lot of emotional certainty.

What is a good email?

Do you have any examples?

What is your experience?  Are you successful in getting people to say yes to your requests via email?

6 Keys to Get Your Email Read [Video]

6 Keys to Get Email Read

Here are 6 keys to engage the reader when you ask for some help via email:

  1. Indicate the social connection between sender and reader – where did you meet?  who put you in contact?  “We met at the Foundum Unplugged conference 2 weeks ago”
  2. Understand the readers perspective – what context (background information) does the reader need to take a decision/act upon the email?  This is often best provided as a url link to supporting information so as to keep the email body short.
  3. Explain why the reader was specifically selected as a source of potential help.  “I am contacting you because you have over 8 years of experience in the industry”
  4. Show that you have already made some effort to understand the domain before asking for help.  “I have spoken to X and to Y, I have read Z book.”
  5. Keep it short.  Many emails are much too long – the sender has no edit process before sending the “draft” email.   (Here’s a nice email policy called three.sentenc.es)
  6. Clarify exactly what is wanted: No effort to clarify what you are asking for.  ”Help” is too vague. What do you want the reader to do when they finish reading?  “Meet next Monday”; “Call me to set up a site visit”; “Forward the email to John”.

What gets email read in your inbox?

What tips do you have?

Your Job is Not Your Job

If someone asked you, “What is your job?”, what would your response be?  Go ahead, take a minute to think about your answer.  I asked a similar question a few weeks ago in my post Become Indispensable: Solve Interesting Problems)

Professor Fred Kofman tells a story about a question that changed his outlook on this question.

Did you say that you’re a coach? Entrepreneur? Do you manage operations? Maybe CEO?  Well, as Fred points out, what you think is your job is not actually your job.

Your Job is Not Your Job

Here is Fred’s presentation:

How do you answer now?

Did Fred change your mind?  (Fred’s full presentation is available here on youtube)

Leading Teams: The 5 Styles of Managing People

I was teaching a seminar recently and a young film producer told me “I am not a good manager”.  I asked him why he believed this.  He described a recent series of disasters that he had overseen with his team.

I asked him “who are the people on your team?”.

He said his cousin helped out with finances and his uncle was helping out on sales.

I suggested that his problem had nothing to do with management or leadership skills.  It was a HR challenge.  This reminded me of this video I recorded on “The 5 Styles of Managing People”:

Leading people

It’s important to adapt your leading style to each individual and actually it goes more detailed than that it is down to each major task that each individual has so that may be that one person in order to produce the weekly
status report they don’t need any supervision at all you can delegate it fully to them, but in creating a marketing plan for the department its something that they hadn’t done before and they’re going to need a lot more “hands-on” management.

As you think about managing people it comes down to individuals and the tasks assigned to them. With each
task that you assign to an individual: what is important to think about are two things:

  • the motivation to take on this challenge and,
  • the experience they have in doing this sort of thing

Motivation: 0, 1 or 2

What i would ask is that you think about for each individual motivation on a scale: zero, one or two

Zero: is they are not motivated. Someone with motivation zero: they really aren’t interested in doing this task perhaps with a particular employee they don’t want to be the one that creates the status report for the weekly team meeting, or you’ve asked them to do a planned visit and write up a report on how things are going and they are really not motivated by that they prefer some other aspect, perhaps the technology is something that turns them on.

So zero is that individual is not motivated by this task. One is there is some motivation there it’s not that they are jumping up and down its not that they are asking you “please please can I do this?” but, there is a desire to grow and two: is that you can see fire in their eyes. They really want to do this, perhaps it’s an area that they really want to develop for their future perhaps its a type of work they really love.

In my case i remember when I first started at Accenture, programming computers was something you didn’t need to manage me to do. I loved doing it. I would do it in my spare time, at the weekends. So, my manager looking at me while he hands me a programming task would see me light up and and be excited almost have to hold me in the room to explain the full project before I could go out and start playing with the computers. Because in my mind it was playing that i was doing when I was programming if that same manager had said “on friday, instead of programming i want you to spend the day with the accounts receivable team drawing a process map of how they conduct the process” – that fire would have gone out of my eyes because it was not something that really motivated me.

So with each task and each employee: it’s important to just think about what level of motivation they have to get this activity done and the same for experience and again we have a zero, one, two scale.

Experience: 0, 1 or 2

Someone who has done many years of this, perhaps someone on your team has been creating the minutes for the team meeting for a couple of years they do it well: their experience is two. They’ve got three or four years of experience doing it, they’ve got the template, they know what goes in there, they know what doesn’t go into there they don’t need to ask for help.

Maybe there’s someone has just started on the team, they’ve never created minutes and they don’t know what it quite looks like: their experience is zero.

Maybe there is someone on your team that for a programming task they really haven’t got a background in this, they don’t know the language or they have not programmed in this particular language before so their experience is zero or one or two. So you need to think through…

What’s what’s this skill level of this person how much experience are they bringing to get to this particular activity and you score for each activity and each person:

  • where they are on motivation: zero, 1 or 2
  • where they are on experience: zero, 1 or 2

This will give you some basis, so perhaps you have someone who is zero and zero…

The Leaders Window: Management Matrix

Lets move that onto our our management matrix: so you have taken a particular task and an employee… and and you have done the sums, and you have looked at how their motivation is to do this particular task, how their experience is to do this particular task and maybe the sum of motivation and experience is zero:

You decide this person is not motivated by this particular task. They have got no experience: zero plus zero leads to zero.

Motivation + Experience: Zero

When you are faced with an individual on your team that is not motivated and that does not have previous experience there’s nothing you can do as a manager to get them to do this well. So, a zero is a HR problem

A zero: there is no management that you can do to get good work out of this individual. It’s a waste of time giving this piece of the activity to that individual employee. So your best decision, if this is a very important piece of work for the team, is to give it to someone else and if you don’t have someone else to do it
you need to replace this individual on the team because there’s no short or long term solution under which
someone who is not motivated and doesn’t have a good level of experience is going to be able to contribute anything worthwhile to the team so if it zero for motivation and zero for experience you need to find someone else to do this work.

Motivation + Experience: One

Let’s say they’ve got a little bit of motivation but no previous experience; or the other case
they’re not really motivated but they’ve been doing it for long enough that they can do it fairly simply
the case of producing minutes from a team meeting the individual is not motivated but they know generally what it looks like which case you’ve got a one as the sum.

In the case of “1” we move to micro-management in the case of micromanagement you’re going to have to supervise quite closely you going to have to set the activity weekly set the timing and describe how you want it done and audit and look over it anyone who’s in this “1” level whether it’s because their experiences is zero or their motivation is zero it is going to be hard work.

Micro-Management is not something you have an enormous scope to be able to to do much of. So the only reason you will allow someone to be in this micro management level is because either some things is going to change or you can see a path for them either to be more motivated or to gain the experience to be able to do it unsupervised.

Your objective is to move people away from micro-management and move them to level “2”, so level “2” is perhaps there’s a little bit of motivation, a 1 score in motivation and a little bit of past experience: so
one and one gives you two maybe its someone who is young who hasn’t done this before, but is very, very motivated to learn so their motivation is 2 but their experience is zero or somebody who’s not very motivated but they’ve been doing this for a long time and have a great deal of experience and know how to get it done, in which case your score is 2 and that 2 an activity, and an individual with a score of 2: you can Manage.

Motivation + Experience: Two

In the case of Manage, you are delegating the “how” to them so the individual it’s up to them them to decide how they want to do it but you keep control of the when and the what. So its the status report: “I want it 10 minutes before the team meeting on friday”, “I want it to look more or less like what we have always had”, “It’s up to you when and how do you do it”.

Or marketing plan, you set the when: “its due in two weeks time” the what: its a market plan. I’d like it to look to looks somewhat like the template we did last time but you leave it up to them to come to you with the how. but you are available for helping with the how, but that is delegated to them.

In the case of management you’re still keeping control of what is being done, you’re still keeping control of the deadline but you’re passing over the day-to-day work on the project to the individual and again this with the accountability question needs to be reinforced each time they come to you you’re pushing back the problem to
them:

  • “what else do we need to do?”
  • “what other things could be done?”
  • “what do you need to get it done?”

Anyone that you are managing: you really want to be looking at how you can move them to to level 3. Because level 3 is where you can lead. The key here at the management level, and at the micro-management level; this side of this quadrant you have a scarce amount of energy and time to dedicate here once you move your employees, the people reporting to you over into the style of leadership of “leading” or fully delegating; you can start to have many, many more people on your team because they’re not sucking a scarce resource that you have in terms of energy, in terms of time.

Motivation + Experience: Three

Leading: if you look at a task, and this task + person: they are highly motivated, they are really motivated to learn, and there’s a little bit of experience so you have given them 2 on the motivation, given them 1 in terms of experience: “3”, you’re leading.

In the case of leading, you are handing over even more responsibility, you are delegating the “what”, you are delegating the “when” you are delegating the “how” over to the individual and you are being there just to
to make sure that they are being supported to remove obstacles and help them be successful so, you’re role is no longer manager but moving more to coach and pushing the ownership of all of the task over to the individual
and if you’ve got an activity where someone is fully motivated: motivation level 2 and they’ve got plenty of experience: experience level 2 you start to get to 4.

With 4 you can delegate and ideally you want to move everyone into this phase: into delegation

Motivation + Experience: Four

You are now handing over full control, and you’re trusting, you’re trusting and doing some regular verification.

The important thing in delegation: the difference between an employee, a team member feeling that they’ve received something delegated to them, or the negative, they have received it dumped onto them it is a very different feeling as a team member to have something dumped on to you.

The big difference between dumping and delegation: in delegation you tell the individual:

  • “I have specifically chosen you”
  • “I trust you to do it”
  • “I am here if you need anything”
  • “I know you could do it better than I can do it”

You need to come back regularly with praise. Let them know you are aware they’re working on it. Let them know that you think they’re doing a good job. Dumping is a very horrible feeling. It feels like someone has just
passed, thrown the work over at them because you don’t want to do it yourself.

Having something dumped on you is a very un-healthy feeling.  Having something delegated to you and someone look you in the eyes and say

  • “I have specifically chosen you”
  • “you can do this better that I can”
  • “I trust you to come to me if you hit an obstacle”
  • “if you need some support to think through the problems”
  • “I trust you to get it done”
  • “I am not going to follow up, I am not going to check up”
  • “This is yours to get done”

When you get your team into leading and delegating as the main styles that your working with them as the team lead you now are freeing up your time to really look ahead you are not stuck in the details of day to day
and you are going to be able to start to look ahead and create time really make those that work for you successful.

Freeing up time for the Future

The real job of a leader, a great leader, is someone that everyone underneath them is even more successful than they are without you as the leader that can only happen when you start to move most of the activity that is being done by your team into these modes of leading and and delegating, and giving you the time and the energy to look up to see the roadblocks, remove the obstacles, praise, and reward and really boost the team into a high performance team so these are some important things to think about as you are giving the work to each member of the team and each activity, and each individual team member will need a different style in terms of how you relate to them how you help them take responsibility for their work.

The objective is always to be moving people out of micro-management into management; out of management into a style of leading and as soon as possible moving them from leading to a style where you can delegate.

Delegation can only happen when the individual team member is motivated and they have enough experience to know more or less how to get the job done so your job as a leader is to make working on their motivation and on working on giving them the skills so that they can be a 2+2 person; giving them a “4”, keeping them in the delegate box

if you can achieve that: you’re going to be really successful as a team leader.

Does success inevitably breed failure?

When does the switch from aiming to succeed to aiming not to fail occur? Has any company ever avoided it?

NASA, Microsoft… and next up?  Apple?

Dan Ariely asks this question on his blog. Why did NASA go from the ambitious 1960’s to 1980’s era moon missions to the conservative, blame-finding, cover-your-arse culture of the space shuttle era? Why did Microsoft go from its dynamic, opportunistic creation of DOS and early Windows to the risk-averse juggernaut of today?

Is Apple doomed to a similar fate?  Or is this not a generalizable trend?

When is the moment of the switch? Can you tell when you are inside the company? Can we trace these switches back to a single moment or are they slow, gradual, sweeping changes that no single person or event can be isolated as the cause?

What about in a person’s life? Is there a moment where success inevitably breeds an attachment to the fruits of success?  Is there a moment where the desire to hold on to my wealth, my status, my invites to the important events is stronger than the desire to test new ideas, to innovate, to risk failures?

When a person starts out with nothing, there is nothing to lose.  You look at potential gains and losses more equally.

When you experience some success then you start caring about what you have and you don’t want to give it up, so there is a natural trend towards conservative behaviour.  In this process, you also give up some of the things that made the success happen.

What can I do to see when I am becoming too defensive again?

Bill Gates said “Success is a terrible teacher.  It tends to give the false lesson of ‘I deserve'”.  This tendency to fall into a belief that I get because I am extra deserving, not because of hard work and a little (or a lot) of luck results in the complacency that leads to the fall.  The greek used the word “Hubris” to capture the arrogance before the fall from grace.

Ritual Sacrifice of Attachments

Joseph Campbell explains a ritual that he participated in late in life.  He was to bring 7 objects to a meeting.  These 7 objects were to symbolically represent the 7 most important things in his life.  During the ritual, the group passed through a dark cave with 7 doorways.  At each doorway a guardian demanded that the person give up one of their 7 symbolic objects.  Joseph speaks of a sense of a tremendous peace coming over him as he gave up his 7th object, passed through the cave and realised that he was still the same person.  This ritual didn’t require him to give up the fruits of his success, but it did emotionally allow him to de-attach from these external elements of his life.

What rituals can allow a company to keep alive the positive behaviours of its youth even as it experiences greater degrees of popular success?  What rituals can allow a person to keep balance even as he has more and more to potentially lose?

70% of Organisational Change Efforts Fail. 8 Steps for Leading Change.

Photo Credit: John of Dublin via Compfight cc

70% of organisation change efforts fail.

John Kotter has an 8 step process that can reduce the likelihood that your project of organisational change (and all leadership projects mean some form of change the the existing status quo).

A big source of failure is starting action before you have put together a solid base of support and understanding before acting.

The 8-Step Process for Leading Change

  1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency – Help others see the need for change and they will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.
  2. Creating the Guiding Coalition – Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team.
  3. Developing a Change Vision – Create a vision to help direct the change effort, and develop strategies for achieving that vision.
  4. Communicating the Vision for Buy-in – Make sure as many as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.
  5. Empowering Broad-based Action – Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision, and encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions.
  6. Generating Short-term Wins – Plan for achievements that can easily be made visible, follow-through with those achievements and recognize and reward employees who were involved.
  7. Never Letting Up – Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision, also hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision, and finally reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents.
  8. Incorporating Changes into the Culture – Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

There is an excellent resource that goes into more detail for each stage at John Kotter’s website.

The Real Reason Why Audiences Love Reality TV

I was watching the UK version of the TV show “The Apprentice” a few months ago.  This particular week’s challenge was to sell caravan and camping equipment at a trade show.

Early on, there was a key decision to make: Which model of caravan would the team try to sell?

Now, this was a trade show where the typical attendee was 60 years old and the teams had this information.  This was not a show directed to young people, nor was it an audience that would be represented by the word “innovative”.  This was people looking for solid, reliable caravans.

The contestants on BBC’s The Apprentice show

The team lead, lets call him Joe, asked for advice from one of his team members, who I will call Tom.  Now, Joe has already agreed with the rest of the team that they should choose a proven, well-priced model…

Joe: “So, Tom, what do you think? Should we go for the hip, modern campervan or the older, proven model?”

Tom: “I think we should go for the modern one.”  (I am surprised at this advice)

Joe: “Really?  I like it a lot more…  but… are you sure it is right for this market?”

Tom: “I think we can manage it.”

Joe: “Right, ok…  I’ll go with your advice.”

Skip forward to the end of the week…  Joe is in the boardroom defending why his team did so incredibly poorly.  It was clearly because he chose a caravan that would be impossible to sell to the actual audience of the trade show.

Tom was playing the game supremely.  He was being friendly to Joe and acting the part of a loyal team member, whilst really setting Joe up for a fall.

We see the Manipulators for what they are

In real life this happens all the time, but it is very hard to see – because the manipulators like Tom are very good at the act, and we only see how they deal with us.  We don’t see or hear what they are saying to others behind our backs.

Modern western society forces a dilemma onto its citizens: How do I maintain a good balance between good, long-term, trusting relationships and individual achievement.  The achievement often has to come by me winning and another person losing.

Machiavelli first put down the principles of individual achievement over trusted relationships back in 1500s in his book The Prince.

TV Series such as The Apprentice, Survivor and Big Brother are exquisitely designed and edited to open a clear window for the viewers into the scheming, manipulative words and actions of the competitors.  They can often go for weeks believing that Tom is a wonderful friend in the house, whilst the audience has known for weeks that Tom is playing the true friend to several others and manipulating the whole house.

It is addictive watching.

I think it is addictive, because deep down we all know the game.

How Ideas Die: The #1 Reason

Good ideas sometimes die. Photo: Thomas Hawk

A person can have the great idea, but if that person cannot convince a number of people: the idea dies.

Good ideas do die.  Good ideas must have good advocates.  Good advocacy and good idea makes an idea live.

Ideas need advocates like humans need oxygen.

The Leader as Communicator

The Leader’s #1 job as a communicator: to discover why people believe the things they do.

Wife says “I don’t like this type of movie.” Husband says “Yes you do.”  Wife learns: he is an idiot.

Wife says “I don’t like this type of movie.” Husband says “I understand you don’t like this type of movie.  What type of movies do you like?  What do they have in common?  What do you feel when you see those movies?  What do you feel when you watch this movie?”.  Wife shares.  Husband learns.

Proving to somebody that they are wrong is not going to lead them to say “thank you for helping me identify the error of my ways”.  Proving to someone that they were lazy is not going to lead them to take decisive action.  Proving to someone that they were stupid is not going to lead them to score well on the exam or do a great job on the report.

“Why does this person think he is right?”

The most important question: Why does this person think he is right?

Everyone who states a position, takes an action – believes that it serves a positive purpose, whether conscious or unconsciously.  Everyone has good reasons. Your job is to uncover their reasons.  You may not see them as good reasons, but they are reason enough for that other person.  You can only help them change if you start from where they start.

Your Question to keep Ideas Alive

Positions are the what. Interests are the why.  If someone resists: Why do they hold this position?  What benefit are they getting emotionally, strategically, personally, financially that makes them want to hold this position?

Find a way to show that the new idea can give them the same or more benefit.

Don’t try to prove them wrong.

 

What will future jobs look like?

Economist Andrew McAfee suggests that, yes, probably, droids will take our jobs — or at least the kinds of jobs we know now. In this far-seeing talk, he thinks through what future jobs might look like, and how to educate coming generations to hold them.

Are you Bill or Ted?

There is a big and growingseparation between the fortunes in the western world for “People like Bill” and “People like Ted”.  (Defined at 7:00 in Andrew’s video presentation).

“People like Bill” – not college educated, low-level blue-collar work

Will be replaced by droids.  Increasing divorce, increasing underemployment, increasing social exclusion.

“People like Ted” – College educated, professional type, engineer/doctor/lawyer

Have a great future.  Increasing opportunity, improved lifestyle, great social life.

What do you think?

Is the future this clearly win/loss?

What is the role of education in preparing “People like Bill” for a better inclusive role in the digital droid future?

Further Reading

Conformity and Submission to Authority (“Willful Blindness”)

I am sitting in the auditorium at IESE Business School listening to Margaret Heffernan speak about her book “Willful Blindness”.  She is a wonderful speaker, sharing both clear framework of ideas and specific personal experiences.

Margaret Heffernan speaking at Growth Summit 2013

I have scribbled about 5 pages of notes on her material, but will limit this blog post to discuss two dangers of human beings when in hierarchical groups (ie companies, governments, bureaucracys, schools, etc!)

The human being is evolutionarily designed to follow orders, and to fit in.  He is more likely to give the leader the answer he guesses that the leader would like to hear, and that he believes the rest of the group would agree with.  It is something that operates at a deep, unconscious level in our brains – and good leaders must work hard to help break these habits – otherwise you will always be the last to hear what is really going on in the world.

Fitting In: Conformity

Example of the sheets used in the original Asch Conformity experiments

Solomon Asch showed a group of 8 people two sheets. One sheet showed 3 lines of differing lengths. The other sheet had one single line. The group were asked to identify which of the 3 lines was the same as the single line.

The trick was that 7 of the group were collaborators of the experimenter. They were to indicate a “wrong” line as the same length line.

The question: would the eighth person, the real person, choose the obvious correct answer… or would they conform to the “wrong” answer that all of the others had provided?

What do you think? What would you do? How would it feel after watching 7 others each indicate a “wrong” answer? Would you have the strength to stick to your convictions?

Over 75% of individuals gave a “wrong” response, conforming to the group.

“We do not like to be wrong, but we never want to be alone” Margaret Heffernan

The strength of the human desire to conform is very strong.

Submission to Authority

One of Solomon Asch’s students was Stanley Milgram.  He is famous for his experiment where he showed that 65% of people were willing to administer a fatal electric shock to another person when they were “asked” to do so by an experimenter in a white coat.  The full experiment is described here on wikipedia.

Stanley Miligram said that in situations with authority figures “we switch from wanting to be a good person, to wanting to do a good job”.  Our moral frameworks do not work when the “boss” is in the room.  We seek all possible signals of body language, coded words, question framing to seek to understand what answer the “boss” would like to hear.  If the boss gives any direction, sets the agenda – then the team will submit and conform to answering this way.

What can we do to reduce the Automatic Conformity and Submission?

As leaders of people, Margaret described 3 options to get innovation, the full creative brilliance out of people:

  1. Don’t show up to (some) meetings – let them run without you
  2. Set up parallel teams to investigate ideas – keep them separate, but not competitive
  3. Act as a tester of hypothesis: Ask “What would we expect to see if your hunch/intuition/idea was right?”

Further Resources